|In Loving Memory of Henry. 3/99 - 10/01|
|Hungry Beginnings||Who's coming for dinner?|
|Life in the Shower||Do the "Funky 'Possum"|
|Table Manners||'Possum Party|
|Henry Moves Out||You Want One Too?|
|Adornment of a 3rd Kind||Thief!|
|Exercising the Beast||Henry Says Goodbye|
|A Story From Mexico|
All photos ©RaineIMAGES
On June 14th (my birthday), we were having dinner at the Topolos Winery as
is our tradition. Being regulars there we felt compelled to engage the waitress
in conversation, and as often happens, it drifted immediately to
four legs and fur. Acacia (our waitress) proceeded to tell us about a Mama 'possum
that was hit by a car near the restaurant. Mama had three babies, now abandoned.
Two of them were
being taken care of by Acacia and her mother....but the third was still running
around. She felt certain they were too small to take care of themselves, and were
obviously hungry, visiting the restaurant on a regular basis. I couldn't volunteer
fast enough for the third baby! Of course I had no idea what I was getting into...
but there was no hesitation...after all- a baby lost in the woods -who could refuse?
No sooner had the waitress left our table, when here comes Baby#3! Trotting across the patio, in broad daylight, almost under our table! There was a brief, half hearted attempt to capture him, but we humans were so stunned we were quite incapable... So we exchanged phone numbers, and I spent a week anxiously checking my answering machine. Baby#3 was somewhat of a spectacle from the beginning. I got the call at work, and half and hour later he was delivered to me in a box-at work! He was mad and he stank. And he was skinny. Did I mention he was mad? He tried like hell to take my fingers off, and I was absolutely terrified. But we both got over our silliness and Henry took up residence in my bathtub. Complete with comfy T-shirts, litter box, and climbing log.
Little 3lb Henry took up residence in my shower. It was convenient in so many ways, and yet clearly a clever routine was in order. Since the downstairs bathroom belonged to my roommate, Henry was going to have to share his domain. Every morning after tending to Nik, Turc, Sarah, Charlie, Nelson, Keri and Alex...(shew!)...Henry had to be excavated from the shower. My heart beat wildly when I even thought about handling him, and my voice shook uncontrollably. Even though he never growled at me after the first 2 days, his initial reaction had left it's mark. I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want him to be frightened, and I didn't want him to bite my fingers off. So for several weeks he only saw me light headed and shaky. Beginning at 5AM, I would slide/dump him out of his little box, and with gloves, I would pick him out of his t-shirt and put him in a Rubbermaid storage drawer. It was set up on a rolling cart so I could move him around and so he was not available to my other pets while I was in the shower. The drawer was great because I could pull it open and slip in fresh food and water and t-shirts without disturbing the little beast. He was still very frightened, and although he would take cherries from my hand, little noises sent him packing. If I took an extra deep breath through my nose-just barely a sniff- his body would jerk and recoil. He thought I was hissing at him! That took the longest for him to get used to. It took him even longer to associate my voice with my presence. I would begin speaking to him long before I started removing the locks on the shower doors, and yet he was always startled to see me! So different now, when clearly the sound of my voice, in the tone I save just for him, calms him immediately. So, I spent a lot of time in my tiny bathroom which consisted of the tub, shower stall, the toilet, and just enough room to turn around. I would sit on the floor, with my feet straddling the toilet, cooing and talking to Henry, and giving him treats. Soon I was no longer saying things like "...he's not even cute!" and realized I was completely smitten, completely in love...with Henry.
That morning was not unusual. One of them got me up, and I staggered downstairs to get breakfast. For THEM, of course. I peeked in on Henry; gave him a treat. Then staggered back to bed. The rest was anything but usual. Shortly after getting up I realized Henry was missing. I looked in the usual places, (he does have alternate sleeping quarters)--nothing. Did he suddenly learn how to escape the kitchen? No way, but I searched the house anyway. That sinking feeling had already taken up residence. Henry was no where. As I stood in the kitchen, trying to maintain my composure, my eyes stared hard at the cat door. Ohmygod. It was unlocked. Not only was Henry missing, but it was my fault. I crawled under the deck, I went though the trap door in the closet to search under the house. Next I smeared plastic bags with sardines and put them all over the yard. He could be around the corner and I would never know it (he's SOOOO quiet!)- but I would hear the bags. I covered the deck with wheat thins and I waited. And I called. And I called and I called. Windows began slamming next door. I was desperate.
When Shawn came home he make a second round. Nothing. It was pushing 8PM and getting dark. I was considering going door to door. My neighbors didn't know about Henry-how would they react to the possibility of a giant rat in their backyard? I considered posting signs in the neighborhood. Would I end up with the authorities at my doorstep? I was devastated. How could I allow this to happen? I was hopeless. And we sat in the kitchen, in the dark, at Henry's table. Silent.
And then we heard something. Barely a whisper of a noise-maybe just a box shifting in a cabinet. No, it was Henry. Henry who had ignored my frantic calls. Henry, who had never left the kitchen! Down on the floor on the left side of the dishwasher, tucked up under the cabinet lip-was a 3"X3" hole. After luring him out he slept quietly in my lap for 45 minutes. I was thankful for those 45 minutes. And as things returned to normal and Shawn and as I headed to bed we both considered what might have been...
"I knew what I was doing tomorrow."
An adorable statement from someone who hated to see me suffer as much as I hated losing Henry. Needless to say, the cat door has been retired!
Every week there seems to be something new with Henry. The smacking, the sudden taking to being combed, the tucking of his "fuzzy dice" were all interesting and amusing. However, some revelations were, and still are, unpleasant. He revealed his latest trick in the aviary. The sun was setting, Henry was searching loudly for snails...when he came across some dog "do". I should call it dog do-NOT! To my horror he carefully picked up a piece, in his mouth, turned his front end around and carefully, deliberately, worked it into his fur just above the tail. Using his mouth and front feet he repeated this action several times. I sat with my mouth open for a long time....Needless to say that was his last performance.
Shortly after Henry moved to the kitchen, he started to resemble something that should be served on a platter at Christmas dinner. I had been successfully trained to give treats on demand, and Henry was never shy about demanding. This caused him to look more like a pig than an opossum. He had many routines that lead to this situation. He appeared on the floor between my feet whenever the refrigerator door was opened. Loudly sniffing, standing on his haunches, he looked for something within reach. If I tried to remove him forcibly his body would stiffen and his tail would flail around in protest. The only way to change his interest was to lure him with something tasty. Henry also learned the potential behind the crackling of any plastic bag. Originally, this was one of his worst fears! It would send him running to the corner of the kitchen under "his" table, between the chair legs. This didn't last too long. Now, any crackling package or bag will bring him out of his basket. From a dead sleep, he slowly, groggily climbs onto the cat climber. His ears are still folded up and his eyes still goopy. His hair is disheveled and he sways slightly. But he manages to line up all 4 feet on the edge of the cat climber, leaning precariously over the edge in shameless beg. Not quite a circus act but definitely treat worthy!
Concerned about his weight, I consulted my references. It was clearly stated that any opossum with "cheeks" (and I don't mean on the face!) was in danger of needing Jenny Craig. Also stated were the plans for a giant hamster super-wheel. Can you picture a round piece of plywood 35" in diameter? That height is about hip level! It was huge. A monster. I had to remove chairs in the kitchen just to fit it. Thanks to Shawn, Henry is now a lean, mean, running machine. He loves his wheel, and becomes quite a menace without it! Climbing wine racks.. etc.
One evening when I went to retrieve Henry from the aviary I was surprised to find that he was NOT waiting at the door for me as usual. As I glanced around for him I saw her! Standing on the fencing that covers the aviary, she stood silent and still in the moonlight. She was unexpectedly beautiful. Wild, free, independent. All the things that Henry is not. Her ears searched for information as she and I stood motionless. This serene moment took a comic turn when Henry, who of course was aware of her, began lumbering in criss-cross fashion, sniffing loudly and making persistent smacking noises all the way!
Many nights I waited in the aviary for her. I was never disappointed. I could hear dogs barking and lunging long before she joined us. And yet she would appear as if by magic and I would catch my breath each time. Her movement had no sound.
Henrietta, as Henry's girlfriend was later named, presented a
problem. We were aware of 'possums using the fence line for navigation
long before Henry came on the scene. The regular uproar from the
neighborhood dogs and the fact that my neighbors called the Humane
Society when they had one in their garage. Clearly this was not the
best place for wildlife. In addition, some major construction began
along the creek and traffic on our busy cross street was becoming a
nightmare. We decided to catch Henrietta and relocate her.
The Funky Possum is an intricate dance requiring many special talents. The following are all examples of steps and rules of the dance: You can combine them any way that suits you.
1. Full body wash, including ears, after every meal. Even if it is
only a snack.
As you can see, The Funky Possum is NOT for beginners.......
Unfortunately Henry is no longer with me, and my heart and home are left with a vacant space in his absence. Unknown to me until close to the end, Henry was suffering from heart disease. I did everything I could, but was not able to bring him to a comfortable level of health that I could maintain. So after spending his last few days in the aviary and in my lap,
helped him go on 10/1/01. It was difficult and I was barely prepared.
But there are things in life that help you through tough
times-friends, family, and all of Henry's fans were and still are,
beautiful support. But there are no replacements. The lumbering furry
does not come to visit the refrigerator, there is no sleeping, curled
up body on my lap with big fangs hanging out and a funny grin. It
amazes me that such a small, simple soul could be so deeply missed.
Possum's Tail (A Cherokee
Posssum used to have a beautiful bushy tail that he combed every morning and sang about at
every dance. Coyote was jealous since her tail was scruffy and full of weeds and dirt.One
day, the animals decided to hold a great council meeting. "We want your tail to look
especially good for this dance," Coyote said to Possum, "so I'm sending Cricket the
Barber to dress it for you." Cricket wrapped a red string around Possum's tail, "to keep
your fur smooth." But as she wound the string, she secretly snippped the hair close to the
roots. When it was Possum's turn to dance, he loosened the sting, stepped to the middle of
the circle and began singing, "See my lovely tail. See how it sweeps the ground." The
animals laughed so hard that Possum stopped dancing and looked at his tal. When he saw that
it was as bare as the tail of a lizard, he was so ashamed that he slumped to the ground,
grinning foolishly, just as he does today when taken by surprise.
Why Opossum is Gray (A Story From Mexico)
Long ago, there was a little opossum. No one paid much attention to
her, especially not Iguana. For only Iguana knew how to make fire, and
he was very proud. One night, Opossum heard Iguana talking. "I am
the Great Firemaker! I should rule the village. I will run away and
take my fire with me. Then all will see how important I am." Off
he ran. The next day, the village was in an uproar. "Without
fire, we cannot cook! Without fire, we will freeze!" the
villagers said. Opossum tried to speak, but no one would listen.